It was simply the most extraordinary and clever speech given by an Israeli prime minister. Bibi Netanyahu did several critical things: demonstrated that he and members of Congress from both parties are entirely in sync; refocused the world on Iran; publicly stated he would give up land considered by Jews to be part of their historic homeland; left no doubt that the Palestinians’ refusal to recognize a Jewish state is the sole reason there is no Palestinian state; and implicitly made a mockery of President Obama’s fixation on settlements. I will take each in order.
The genuine expression of warmth and respect, but more important, agreement from Congress was undeniable. On each key point, whether on Hamas or the right of return or the U.N., there was a full standing ovation from every attendee I could spot. Netanyahu is a uniter — is there ANY issue on which the Congress is so totally united? And Netanyahu made a key point to lawmakers weary about demands form unstable regimes. “No nation building is needed. Israel is already built. There is no need to export democracy.We already are one.” And there’s no need for U.S. troops because “we defend ourselves.”
When a single heckler interrupted, Congress stood in unison to show solidarity. In one of his best lines, Netanyahu said, “You can’t have these protests in the farcical parliaments of Tehran or Tripoli. This is real democracy.”
On Iran, he reminded the audience of Obama’s pledge to prevent Iran from gaining a nuclear weapons capability. He warned that despite the sanctions, “time is running out.” He chastised the free world, making clear the calls for Israel’s destruction are generally met with “silence,” and even worse, “Israel is condemned for defending itself” against Iranian surrogates such as Hamas. He noted that Iran only once suspended its nuclear program — in 2003, when it was afraid of attack. The more Iran “believes that all options are on the table, the less chance of a confrontation,” he said.
And then Netanyahu demonstrated that the fuss over settlements was pointless. “I am willing to make painful compromises,” he said. He acknowledged publicly that he understands that Israel will have to give up some of the land of biblical Israel to attain peace. In other words, a settlement freeze is irrelevant because he will, consistent with security, uproot some Jews in the West Bank. He made clear that Israel has already uprooted roadblocks, withdrawn from Gaza and assisted in economic development for the West Bank.
So what’s the hang-up? “All six prime ministers since the signing of the Oslo accords — including me — have agreed to establish a Palestinian state.” In a line for the ages he asserted: “It has never been about the establishment of a Palestinian state; it’s always been about the existence of a Jewish state.” He reiterated that borders will have to be set in negotiations, Israel must have a long-term presence in the Jordan Valley; the Palestinian state must be demilitarized; and “the Palestinian refugee problem must be resolved outside the borders of Israel. Everybody knows it.” (Hmm, where’d we hear that phrase last?) Jerusalem, he made clear, will “never again be divided.”
Netanyahu robustly rejected the idea of a unilateral Palestinian state being imposed by the U.N. As for Hamas, he said, “Israel will not negotiate with a government backed by the Palestinian version of al-Qaeda.”
You were left wondering how in the world the Obama administration could have a problem with that. The focus on the wrong issue (settlements), the intentionally provocative speech on Thursday and the obvious preference for committing the United States to only the Palestinians’ issues (land) suggest this president simply doesn’t understand the Palestinian-Israel conflict. Or, maybe he just thinks Israel is the problem and has to make amends.
In any case, Netanyahu’s heroic speech is likely to boost his popularity at home and endear him further to Congress. Obama has pledged to block a U.N. recognition of the Palestinian state and Congress will certainly cut off aid to the unity government if it survives. And beyond that exactly nothing will happen until Palestinian leaders are willing to make peace. In the entire 63 years of the Jewish state, nothing has changed.